Presto News - 19th August 2013
Dame Janet Baker celebrates her eightieth birthday
One of our most beloved singers celebrates her eightieth birthday this Wednesday, and thanks to our friends over at EMI I had the opportunity to meet up with her at the Wigmore Hall last month for an in-depth chat about her illustrious career, her thoughts on the classical music industry today and what she’s been up to since retirement. It’s over thirty years now since Dame Janet Baker made her final operatic appearance (as Gluck’s Orfeo, at Glyndebourne) whilst still at the absolute height of her powers: though she continued to sing in concert and in the studio for a few years afterwards, she’s relished spending most of her retirement well out of the public eye, so it was an immense privilege to be granted a rare interview with her to coincide with the release of the beautiful commemorative boxed set detailed below.
Dame Janet Baker
Dame Janet told me that what she loves about this new set is its diversity: in terms of the time-span of the recordings and the breadth of the repertoire it’s a veritable Portrait of the Artist, ranging from her explorations of early Baroque music with Raymond Leppard in the 60s to her 1990 studio recording of Respighi and Berlioz under Richard Hickox. (This would turn out to be one of her very last performance projects, though she didn’t know it at the time). Especially in the Villanelle from Les Nuits d’été, the voice still sounds astonishingly fresh for a lyric singer approaching 60 – testimony, perhaps, to the wisdom of her choices when it came to operatic repertoire and to the rock-solid technique which she acquired very early on and barely needed to tweak as she matured.
Unlike many singers, who gain (or are encouraged to assume) extra vocal weight or height/depth as they age, she told me that her instrument remained essentially constant throughout her singing life and she was never tempted to push it beyond its natural comfort-zone. The few controlled experiments with more dramatic, Romantic repertoire on the set, though, are some of the high points for me: I grew up with her benchmark Purcell Dido, but her regal despair as Berlioz’s version of that character from Les Troyens took me quite by surprise, as did the slow-burning Wesendonk-Lieder (her one excursion into Wagner, which she relished!). And of course there are those Mahler and Elgar recordings, which really are the stuff of legend: she spoke very warmly of the pleasure she took in rediscovering this repertoire towards the end of her career, when collaborations with then-firebrands like Simon Rattle shed new light on works she’d been singing for decades. Happily, multiple versions of several key works are included in the set for comparison.
You can watch the interview in full via the link below – at twenty minutes it’s a fair bit longer than our standard artist-interviews, but we hope you’ll agree that it was worth taking a little extra time to celebrate an artist who was not only an extraordinary singer but who remains a uniquely inspiring and eloquent lady. (She’s still full of trenchant wit and Yorkshire bluntness, too – listen to her thoughts on outré opera-directors, towards the end of the video, and you’ll see for yourself!) So thank you, Dame Janet, for all those wonderful recordings and for sharing your insights and experiences with Presto – and a very happy birthday!
Janet Baker: The Great EMI Recordings
Dame Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano)
This 20-disc set from EMI includes classic recordings of music by Berlioz, Elgar, Mahler, Schubert, and many others. Nearly 25% of this collection has not been released on CD before, including Monteverdi and Scarlatti with Raymond Leppard, duets with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and several recordings of English and French songs.
Katherine Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org
19th August 2013
Plácido Domingo: Verdi
Plácido Domingo (baritone), Orquestra de la Comunítat Valencíana, Pablo Heras-Casado
For the very first time, Plácido Domingo records a complete album of baritone repertoire: here he assembles Verdi's most beloved baritone arias from Don Carlo, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra among many others. Considered to be THE Verdi tenor of his generation, Plácido Domingo now presents a new side of his vocal abilities. He is accompanied by the Orquestra de la Comunítat Valencíana under the direction of Pablo Heras-Casado.
Schubert: Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 'The Great'
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, David Zinman
After their acclaimed recordings of music by Beethoven, Strauss, and Mahler, David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich now devote themselves to the symphonies of Franz Schubert, starting with this recording of the Ninth Symphony in C major (also known as The Great).
Zemlinsky: String Quartets, Volume 1
Escher String Quartet
Written just after the Lyric Symphony, the beauty and ironic playfulness of Zemlinsky’s Third Quartet comes from the cool, austere language of Weimar’s ‘New Objectivity’. The Fourth Quartet was amongst the last of Zemlinsky’s significant works, composed as a moving tribute after the death of his friend Alban Berg. Performed by the internationally acclaimed Escher String Quartet, this is the first of two albums of the complete Zemlinsky quartets.
The Unknown Sibelius
Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (conductor) and others
This disc presents rarities culled from the complete Sibelius Edition, including pieces such as Finland Awakes, an early version of Finlandia, in which the famous ‘hymn’ tune is restated in full at the end of the piece. Also included are première recordings of works and fragments that have been discovered after the Sibelius Edition was brought to a close in 2011, including sketches for the Eighth Symphony.
Bernard Haitink: The Philips Years
Bernard Haitink (conductor)
A 20-disc set of classic recordings from Bernard Haitink, conducting orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw and the London Philharmonic in music by Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, Bruckner, Mahler, Mozart and many others.
Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas
Igor Levit (piano)
Igor Levit has recently given highly acclaimed debuts in major musical centres across Europe and is being hailed by international critics as one of the most outstanding pianists of our time. The Russian-German pianist performs one of the largest chunks of piano repertoire – Beethoven’s much-revered five late sonatas, opp. 101, 106 and 109–111.
Gary Graffman: The Complete RCA and Columbia Album Collection
Gary Graffman (piano)
Sony Classical celebrates Gary Graffman with the first-ever release of his complete recordings in a 24-CD collection. The set includes his 1956 debut recording of Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 for the first time on CD, together with notable performances of music by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and many others. All recordings have been remastered from the original analogue tapes.
Wagner: Rienzi (DVD)
Torsten Kerl (Rienzi), Marika Schönberg (Irene), Daniela Sindram (Adriano), Richard Wiegold (Colonna), Stefan Heidemann (Orsini), Orchestre national du Capitole, Pinchas Steinberg (conductor)
Championing love and personal heroism in the face of ecclesiastical oppression and political chicanery, Wagner’s third opera explores characteristic themes with terrific energy, culminating in the eponymous Roman tribune’s famous prayer to the gods of his fatherland. Recorded live at the Theâtre du Capitole, Toulouse, in October 2012, this performance feature Torsten Kerl in the title role, supported by the experienced Wagnerian Pinchas Steinberg.
Blu-ray version also available here.
Copyright © 2002-17 Presto Classical Limited, all rights reserved.